The first 16 years of my life were something out of a Lifetime Channel movie; alcoholic, misogynist, abusive stepfather; enabling and psychologically damaged mother; and a spoiled, bratty, but obedient younger sister.
We were upper middle class, well educated, Catholic, and lived in a predominantly white rural area right outside of a large city. We were the picket fence kind of people, hiding our secrets behind a nicely manicured lawn, shiny cars, and family portraits with exaggerated smiles. I reference all of this in effort to illustrate the fact that I was by no means what the far right would consider the “typical” abortion seeker. I wasn’t poor, uneducated, or a delinquent. I may have had a broken home, but I was smart and motivated. Though my family was quietly pro-choice, it wasn’t an issue that I ever considered for myself. I moved out at seventeen with two-hundred dollars in cash, a full tank of gas, and only one goal: to be better than the home I came from. Granted, my road to self discovery wasn’t without pit falls. I found the bottom of a bottle, various lovers, and some debt along the way, but I was determined to get where I was going.
I hear a lot of people talk about the “convenience” of abortion. I want to note here that I’ve had two children, one before and one after my abortion, and neither child came at a convenient time in my life, but neither were aborted. This is because my convenience wasn’t a factor in my decision to abort. What factored into my decision was directly tied to the complications and ensuing health problems that were brought to light in my first pregnancy.
I was 19 when I found out I was going to be a mother. It came at a time when I was still trying to find my way. I had a new car, a steady job, and a home with my boyfriend. I didn’t want a child, and I considered adoption, but never abortion. Not because I was against it, but because I had no reason, in my mind, to do it. The nightmare of my pregnancy prompted me to decide against adoption, as I was too scared to go through pregnancy again and I didn’t want to miss out on having children. I suffered a rare complication while pregnant called hypermesis gravidarum that caused me to vomit violently at all hours of the day, for the entire pregnancy. I couldn’t hold down water, let alone food, and I often passed out from dehydration. Since most women experience vomiting in their pregnancy, my doctor thought I was exaggerating the circumstances, so I wasn’t diagnosed until the 7th month. All in all, I lost 12 lbs, and only ended up 7 lbs heavier at the end of my pregnancy than I was before it.
I wish I could say that my sickness was the worst of my pregnancy problems, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Like most women, I was prepared for the long process of labor and vaginal birth; the idea of a Caesarian never crossed my mind. I didn’t want the epidural either, but after a couple of hours of back labor, I was screaming for the euphoric release of a spinal tap. I had little time to relax before the real nightmare began. After six hours of labor, my doctor informed me that the baby’s heart rate was dropping and that I hadn’t dilated past 2 centimeters. After two shots of pitocin and no improvement, I was prepped for an emergency c-section. I was terrified. All I could think of was the life of my child. When they finally pulled my little boy out, I held my breath waiting for a sign that he was ok. One, two, three, four… Silence. I heard someone say that his cord was around his neck and I saw his blue face. Tears fell down my cheeks as I lay there, strapped to a table and unable to help him. Then, finally, I heard him scream. It was the greatest sound I’d ever heard. My baby was ok, and after a few days, we headed home to live happily ever after….
…. For three days. Six days after my son was born, my left leg had swollen 3 times its normal size. It had turned red and purple and I sobbed with every step I took. My mother rushed me to the hospital emergency room. After one look, doctors swarmed around me, sticking me with needles, checking my blood pressure, and poking at my feet. I was informed that I had a clot in my femoral artery and my lower calf and they had progressed to a point of imminent danger. The doctors said with the size of my leg and the amount of elapsed time, I was a ticking time bomb and could release the clot with the slightest movement. No one knew exactly why I had developed a clot, and from what I learned, a femoral clot was rare. After having it, my chances of future clots increases, since the old clot leaves the major artery corroded and scared. I spent seven days in the hospital, with blood draws every six hours, heparin every twelve, and a strict order of bed rest with absolutely no exceptions. Those seven days were torture. Since I’d already left the maternity ward, I wasn’t allowed to keep my son with me. My mother and husband worked, so I saw my baby for a couple hours a day. Outside of that, I was all alone. Turns out, I had an undiagnosed blood disorder that causes my blood to clot easily. I was advised to abstain from having more children, as my disorder (known as Factor V Leiden) coupled with the femoral clot, made pregnancy an extremely dangerous endeavor. Unfortunately, the Catholic run hospital wouldn’t preform a tubal until I’d had a second child, and I couldn’t take any birth control that released hormones without risking further clots. I chose to use condoms as a means of preventing pregnancy from there on out.
After my scare, I went on to go to college and I worked full time to raise my son. My husband at the time wasn’t very reliable and rarely held a job, so I took on all of the responsibility. We split up when my son was two. When my son was three, I dated a guy who was very controlling. I wanted out of the relationship and started making plans to leave, but I was keeping the relationship going until I could get my ducks in a row. Apparently he knew I wanted to leave, because soon after I found out I was pregnant by him, he revealed to me that he had poked holes in the condoms as a means to get me pregnant so that I would stay. I was terrified. Given the situation I was in, my medical condition, and the brush with death from my first pregnancy, I wasn’t prepared to risk another one. I moved in with my family, three hours away, only two days after discovering that I was pregnant. We discussed my options. I knew that the father wouldn’t help with the child, just as my ex husband didn’t help with my son. I had only one year of college under my belt, and couldn’t afford another child. At only six weeks pregnant, I was already vomiting day and night, and feared being able to care for myself and my three year old. My aunt told me that she would adopt my child if I wanted, but I was only concerned with the prospect of dying. I didn’t want to leave behind the child that I paid for in blood, sweat and tears. I lived for him. What good was I to him if I died?
After days of consideration, I chose to have an abortion. My great grandmother, who was Catholic and extremely pro-life, stood behind me the whole way. The day after my 24th birthday, she and my grandmother drove me to the clinic, three hours away. As we pulled in, I looked out the window to see the pro life protesters lined up on the walkway. They yelled at me, begging me to choose a different option, throwing fliers at me. I felt the tears running down my face. They don’t know me, I thought. They don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve been through. If they knew, would they still ask me to risk my life for this baby? I couldn’t force my legs to move. I knew I was doing the right thing, but I couldn’t endure the spotlight that they were shining on what was the hardest and most private moment of my life. I looked up, with tears staining my eyes, to see my 85 year old great grams. She pulled me to my feet, wrapped her arm around my shoulders, and told me to ignore them. She sat right next to me in that clinic, holding my hand while I filled out my papers. I was escorted back for a checkup before receiving an ultrasound. The technician asked if I wanted a copy of the ultrasound, and I said yes. In the back of my mind, I felt like it was my penance to pay, my scarlet letter, a reminder of my sin. After the ultrasound, I was escorted to a psychiatrists office. She asked me why I chose to have an abortion, whether I was forced and the process of the procedure, including diagrams of d&c and the possible side effects. The woman gave me phone numbers, literature, and a variety of alternative choices like adoption and raising my child, before sending me back out to the waiting room for a required four hours, encouraging me to consider all given routes before they would continue the procedure. When the time came, the nurse came to get me. She explained again the procedure, and the medication options and side effects. I received my dosage and was escorted to the procedure room. It looked like any other room in a hospital. The walls were white, the floor was cold, and there was the unmistakable smell of rubbing alcohol and cleaner. I laid down, closed my eyes, and waited. It was over in minutes; quick and painless, a fact that, for a long time, plagued my conscience. I knew the implications of my choice, and the social stigma that it carried with it. I was, and still am, at peace with my choice, but that doesn’t mean that I am without reverence for it. After time in the recovery room, I walked out to my car, with my great grams wrapping her arm around me, drowning out the angry voices of the protesters with her fearlessness. She died a month later, not long after telling me how proud she was of my strength and my courage.
I’m 27 now. Last month marked three years since my abortion. Since then, I’ve gotten married to a wonderful man, and we’ve had a child of our own. You might wonder why I could argue my health as a means for abortion, yet risk it in another instance. It’s because this time I didn’t have to worry about leaving my child alone in the world. This time, he had a steady, reliable father to love him and raise him. When I chose my abortion, I didn’t disregard life, I simply weighed the life of the 8 week old fetus against not only my own life, but the life of the child that I was already charged with protecting. I weighed how his life would be affected by my death or impacted health, against the life that hadn’t even begun, and couldn’t miss what it didn’t know. I know that I made the right choice. I know that it is because of that choice that I can hold my children at night and love them and kiss them. I know that it’s because of my choice that I can give my children two loving parents and a home where they are protected. I know that it’s because of my choice that I can finally reach my goal. My home is better than the one I came from. I love my family and I will continue to put them first until my dying day. When it comes down to it, convenience never played a part in my abortion. It would have been most convenient to have one at 19, when I had the world at my fingertips. It would have been convenient to have one at 25, when I was newly married and my child was going to school, leaving me the chance to pursue a degree. No, convenience wasn’t a factor, life was. My child’s life, the child with memories and warm hugs and sparkling blue eyes, the one I bled for… His life mattered. This is why I can confidently proclaim that I am pro LIFE; because I chose to protect the lives that I was already responsible for.
I am only one of thousands of stories, each unique to the individual. Our voices have been silenced by those who refuse to listen, but I refuse to remain quiet. I refuse to return to the shackles of slavery, where my body is synonymous with an incubator. I’ve heard that its easy for me to fight for abortion, because I got to be born. I think this is inaccurate. I think it’s easy for people to argue for life, because they are, in fact, living. Life isn’t biology. It’s not a heartbeat, or the air in your lungs. When a person is only kept alive by machines, they aren’t living, because there is no life to live. There are no memories for that person, no laughter, no warmth. They survive only at the mercy of the tubes that tie them to the living world. They know nothing beyond the dark abyss behind their closed eyes. It is only the person who’s mind is aware of what would be missed, that can argue for it. If they had never lived, they’d never know it.